by Jennifer O'Brien

‘Affinity’ for change: Childcare operator across Australia seeks greater insights

Feb 13, 2019
Big DataCloud ComputingCollaboration Software

Affinity Education Group has set its sights on analytics and data visualisation in a bid to gain customised insights into its 170 childcare centres across Australia for better decision-making and planning. It may even have a three-year head start on its competitors.

That’s according to Thomas McDade, its senior director of innovation and commerce, who told CIO Australia the childcare industry is typically slow to adopt technological change. Prior to education, his background was in system delivery, feedback and performance solutions for the livestock and mining industries.

“Like a lot of businesses we suffered from a backwards looking data set. When we posted results, we had to be looking in hindsight – what happened and why did it happen? We wanted to be able to turn that on its head and start looking for insights and what will happen – and be able to make decisions in order to influence our business.”

McDade said the childcare operator opted for Tableau and has already seen some top results including a single source of truth across its 170 centres, and a 70 per cent savings in time to insight.

With up to 4,000 employees attending to 100,000 children across Australia over the next five years, McDade said Affinity Education needed a “single source of truth” that could be relied on by all decision-makers from senior executives to childcare centre workers on the ground.

“We now have a common view and a common conversation,” he said, explaining the 50 applications used across the business can be brought into common view and provide a common language with the same metrics for the CEO to the system centre managers.

Thomas McDade

Asked the company’s biggest challenge, he said it was the lack of a common view across the many childcare centres nationwide. Business users had limited access to data and were unable to derive their own insights through self-service analytics.

“We can now customise the insights so they are relative and meaningful to the centres.”

Prior to initial implementation in 2017, he said business users relied on a very small team of commercial analysts to find answers to their questions from huge Excel files with over a million rows of data.

“We are a relatively lean head office. We don’t have huge IT departments and we largely outsource. So with that in mind, in 2017, we looked at the core providers and selected a shortlist and then decided to go with Tableau based upon the mockups that we were able to achieve.”

With the help of tech partner KeyData, Affinity Education created a centralised operational dashboard called Pulse, which provides a single source of truth across all levels of the business.

From the central dashboard, users can drill down deeper to get tailored insights, with up to 100 analytical workbooks actively in use by different business units.

The dashboard also links to Affinity Education’s key applications such as timesheet and attendance tracking, customer relationship management, human resources, customer pipeline and surveys.

“Everything we need to know about the business is embedded in one single view,” said McDade.

He said analytics is the way of the future – particularly for the childcare industry. “It brings so much to the company. At this stage, it is still trying to be quantified. But it has already impacted our culture, our operational success.

“We feel totally connected even though we are a totally disparate organisation,” he said, explaining the company operates childcare centres in every state around Australia (except South Australia) and many of them are quite regional.

“Every week we are able to connect with a common view via Tableau. We feel completely connected to each other.”

Competitive edge

McDade acknowledged that childcare in Australia is highly competitive with a range of private, not-for-profit and semi not-for-profit operators vying to service the needs of Australian families.

In particular, he said a common challenge faced by childcare centre operators is retaining customers during the summer months. Every year, as children reach school age, they start to exit childcare as early as November, ahead of the summer break and start of school at the end of January the following year.

Before Tableau, Affinity Education’s executives and managers worked with month-old retrospective data. Decision-making was reactive and often one step too late.

With Tableau as its centralised reporting tool, Affinity Education now gets freshly updated data and forward-facing insights. They use Tableau to understand which customers are leaving and when, and plan summer programs to keep them in care a bit longer.

“We now know where we’re going to land and have two to four weeks to influence that to get a better result,” said McDade. “That wasn’t even possible prior to Tableau.”

Down the track

He said he’s also partnering with several businesses that will enable direct exchange with its data sources.

“We would feed that information exchange into real time forms so operational management is making decisions based upon current information and forward facing information so that we’re very capable of understanding where our current journey is.

“We know what our goals are so really all we’re doing is describing how we’re going to get there.”